New Delhi, Sept. 19: Murli Manohar Joshi stuck to his word and duly resigned today even though the Rae Bareli court sprang a surprise by framing charges against all accused other than L.K. Advani.
The human resources development minister had said yesterday that he would resign if charged in the Babri Masjid demolition case, hoping to score a political point over deputy Prime Minister Advani and perhaps make him do likewise.
But the Rae Bareli court spared Advani today, framing charges only against Joshi and six other leaders.
Although he found the tables turned, Joshi, a member of the BJP triumvirate along with Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, faxed his resignation to the Prime Minister. He also sent a copy to Advani and spoke to him over telephone.
Vajpayee, who is in Turkey, asked the minister to reconsider, saying he had quit in “haste”. “He (Joshi) has hastily put in his papers. He should have waited till the party reacted over the court verdict,” the Prime Minister said in Istanbul before flying out to New York.
Advani said he had asked Joshi to accept the BJP’s view that none of the accused should step down even if charges are framed since the leaders had been involved in political movements and not implicated in corruption cases.
Speaking to the media after the verdict was announced, party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu said: “There is no need for any minister including Joshi to resign. Even if charges are framed we are of the opinion that there is a fit case for discharge of all the people. This case was foisted against our party leaders and nationalist organisations in 1992 by the then regime despite which these people were getting elected. The Prime Minister in his wisdom and as per his prerogative gave them ministerial responsibility and they were performing to the best of their capacity.”
But Joshi chose to stick by his decision to quit, saying he had done so before hearing Naidu’s remarks. Vajpayee has asked the minister to reconsider, but Joshi’s aides say he will not do so for the resignation might prove “politically gainful”.
A former Uttar Pradesh legislator close to Joshi said: “In the eyes of the cadre he has become a hero because by being charged, he has accepted and not disowned his involvement in the temple movement.”
A more balanced assessment was that the minister could change his mind if asked to do so by Vajpayee. Since the Prime Minister will return to India only after a week, sources say Joshi may use the interim period to see if his resignation creates a groundswell of goodwill for him as well as the temple “cause”.
But the BJP response to his resignation has been rather lukewarm. News of the verdict trickled in when Naidu was felicitating law and commerce minister Arun Jaitley at the party headquarters for his role at the Cancun trade summit.
As Jaitley spoke, a grinning BJP spokesman, Prakash Jawdekar, went up to the dais to hand over a paper to the party chief. The creases on Naidu’s face eased and he turned to Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who then stepped out, returning minutes later with more papers.
The mood was rather gloomy at Joshi’s Raisina Road residence some blocks away where no one other than his personal staff, ministry officials and the media was present. NCERT director J.S. Rajput and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad arrived hours later. This prompted a Joshi sympathiser to ask: “Isn’t it strange that the BJP which was built on the edifice of the Ayodhya agitation should turn its back on a person who has been sacrificed for it'”
Joshi appeared before the press for barely five minutes and then locked himself up inside.